The NHS is struggling with its worst winter ever as A&E waiting times hit their highest on record, damning figures released today reveal.
New data from NHS England shows the health service is operating at a poorer level than at the same point in 2016, which was branded a 'humanitarian crisis' and saw the British Red Cross drafted in to help.
The alarming statistics, collected from between New Year's Day and January 7, show:
- One in five patients at major casualty units waited longer than four hours - the safe limit set by the Government - to be seen in December
- The statistics showed that for all A&E units, 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within the four-hour period - equaling last January's record low.
- More than 300,000 patients were forced to wait for at least four hours in all A&E units - the highest amount since figures began in 2010.
- Ambulance delays have also risen to record proportions, with more than 5,000 patients left stuck in the back of the vehicles waiting to be transferred to A&E.
- While bed occupancy levels have hit their worst point yet this winter, with 24 trusts declaring they had no free beds at some point last week, the figures show.
The 'disappointing' figures have been escalating rapidly in the past few weeks, with the crisis now at the forefront of a political row over funding.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt have been forced to publically apologise amid the crisis, which has seen furious medics beg for extra funding to cope.
Officials have slammed the figures, which come a week after an unprecedented move by health chiefs to cancel 55,000 operations.
Bosses have also warned the health service is in the midst of a 'watershed moment' because it cannot currently deliver required levels of care.
A&E staff have spoke of their grave concerns of the 'battlefield' conditions they have faced this winter, revealing they are 'ashamed' over the 'substandard care'.
Officials have slammed the 'disappointing' statistics, released by NHS England, which come a week after an unprecedented move to cancel 55,000 operations
Separate figures released by the NHS today also show the number of patients being forced to wait at least an hour in ambulances has risen.
More than 5,000 patients were forced to wait in the back of the emergency vehicles for at least an hour to be seen by over-stretched A&E staff.
Some 16,600 people were forced to wait for more than 30 minutes in ambulances to be seen by staff at A&E over the first week of January.Usually, it should take up to 15 minutes to transfer patients from an ambulance into hospital. Delays can happen when there isn't enough A&E staff to take the patient.
The overall bed occupancy rate sits at 95 per cent - well above the recommended safe levels of 85 per cent, according to data from all 137 trusts in England.
This is a significant jump on the figure recorded for the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, when it sat at 91.7 per cent.
Figures showed 24 hospital trusts had no free beds on at least one day during the latest week, starting New Year's Day and ending January 7.
PM WARNED PATIENTS ARE 'DYING PREMATURELY' IN CORRIDORS, LEAKED LETTER REVEALS
Furious A&E chiefs have warned Prime Minister Theresa May that patients are 'dying prematurely' in hospital corridors.
A leaked letter, written by the bosses of 60 casualty units, reveals there are 'serious concerns' about patient safety amid the NHS' worst winter on record.
Chiefs warned just 45 per cent of patients had been seen within four hours in some A&E units during last week - well below recommended levels.
The strongly-worded letter also revealed how levels were 'never higher than 75 per cent'. The Government time-target is 95 per cent.
Furious A&E chiefs have warned Prime Minister Theresa May that patients are 'dying prematurely' in hospital corridors
Their revelation, seen by HSJ, mirrors figures released by NHS England today which showed waiting times have reached their worst on record.
Fears have been raised that the problems will only worsen, amid the rapid spread of flu which some expect to be the worst outbreak in 50 years.
Names on the scathing letter, dated yesterday, included some of the bosses of the biggest and busiest casualty units across the country.
They included: Cambridge University Hospitals, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, Kings College Hospital and Central Manchester University Hospitals.
They warned the NHS is 'chronically underfunded' and not prepared for the winter onslaught, now considered to be the worst recorded in recent history.
A&E WAITING TIMES
More than 300,000 patients were forced to wait for at least four hours in all A&E units - the highest amount since figures began in 2010.
This is a 35 per cent jump in the space of a week, the figures revealed.
Just 77.3 per cent of patients at major casualty units were seen in December within the four-hour time target - the safe limit set by the Government.
The statistics showed that for all A&E units, 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within the four-hour period - equaling last January's record low.
The target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours has not been met since July 2015.NHS 111 CALLS
Calls to NHS 111, the non-emergency hotline, are also at high levels - with 360,000 recorded last week.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the figures were 'disappointing'.
A spokesman added: 'It further demonstrates why it has been necessary to cancel patients’ non-urgent procedures until the end of January.
'Despite the best efforts and dedication of NHS staff to treat patients quickly, waiting times for non-urgent care have also deteriorated again in the past year.
'Last week, NHS England advised that hospitals defer non-urgent inpatient planned care until the end of January and that day-case procedures and routine patient appointments should also be deferred where this will release clinical time for emergency care.
'Although this should help relieve some of the pressures on hospitals and avoid last-minute cancellations, it is a short-term solution and will cause huge disruption to those patients whose appointments and operations have been cancelled.'
Donna Kinnair, of the Royal College of Nurses, said: 'Today’s figures demonstrate why NHS Providers are calling this a watershed moment for the Health Service.
'Fewer trusts than ever before were able to meet the A&E four hour target, almost 100 per cent of hospital beds were full every day last week, way above the 85 per cent safe limit recommended by experts, and almost 1,000 beds a day were lost to Norovirus outbreaks.
'We can no longer call this a winter crisis – without more staff and more funding for the NHS, this crisis risks continuing to run well into spring and summer.'
A letter written by the chief executive of NHS Providers - the trade body which represents NHS services - has called for the Government to commit to increasing the NHS budget to £153 billion by 2022/23.
Chris Hopson said investment on a long-term basis - and help with the immediate financial impact of 'exceptional winter pressures' - was needed to address the 'fragility of the wider NHS'.
Mr Hopson said: 'Despite planning for winter more thoroughly and extensively than before, it hasn’t been sufficient. Rising numbers of flu cases and more respiratory illness have placed intolerable pressures on staff.
THE 'HUMANITARIAN CRISIS' OF 2016 ON THE NHS
The NHS endured its worst ever winter crisis, with waiting times, cancelled operations and bed-blocking running at, or near, record levels last year.
Official figures illustrated the scale of the scale of the turmoil to engulf the health service in the face of unprecedented pressures.
Bed-blocking due to a lack of social care places was at a record high with more than 2,500 health patients prevented from leaving hospitals each day - specifically because there is nowhere for them to go.
Statistics from NHS England report also revealed nearly 200,000 patients waited at least four hours in A&E between the winter months of December to February - a five-fold increase from just 41,000 five years previously.
Supporters of the NHS reacted in fury after the Red Cross claimed hospitals were facing a 'humanitarian crisis' after its worst week in 15 years
Extreme waiting times also reached record levels, as nearly 2,000 patients were forced to wait at least 12 hours in A&E over the same period.
And cancer referral rates in February were at their second lowest level on record.
Supporters of the NHS reacted in fury after the Red Cross claimed hospitals were facing a 'humanitarian crisis' after its worst winter in 15 years.
The charity said it stepped in to help the NHS in England to deal with the increased demand during the winter, but have been hit with criticism accusing them of overstating the issue.
It comes as it emerged that two patients died on trolleys in Worcestershire Royal Hospital's accident and emergency department in January.
'The NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed. We need to be realistic about what we can provide on the funding available.'If we continue to run the NHS at close to 100 per cent capacity, day in, day out, permanently in the red zone, it’s not surprising that the service can’t cope when we get a high, but entirely predictable, spike in demand.'
The new figures came after the unprecedented move to cancel up to 55,000 non-urgent operations to free up beds and frontline staff amid a rise in flu cases.
The decision prompted an apology from then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week, following pressure from his critics that he was 'running scared'.
Prime Minister Theresa May also apologised for the controversial decision to postpone some operations.
Families have been asked to look after elderly patients at home to free up beds as hospitals struggle to cope with the ever-increasing pressure.
The advice was issued at three hospitals, Northampton General Hospital, Bedford Hospital and Western Sussex.
The crisis, which has also been denied by Professor Keith Willett, NHS England's director for acute care, has been described as the worst since the 1990s.
The first week in January is normally very busy for hospitals, but this year many more patients are succumbing to severe chest infections and flu.
Experts are particularly worried about an aggressive flu strain, H3N2 – responsible for Australia's worst flu epidemic in 50 years.
The main reason A&E units are overcrowded is because hospital wards are extremely full, so anyone arriving to A&E who needs to be admitted must wait for hours on a trolley until a bed is free.
Many of the patients occupying hospital beds are elderly and medically well enough to go home. But doctors cannot discharge them due to a lack of social care.
THE TRUSTS THAT RAN OUT OF SPACE
- Weston Area Health NHS Trust
- Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Isle Of Wight NHS Trust
- University Hospitals Of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
- Tameside And Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
- South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust
- Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust
- Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- East Cheshire NHS Trust
- Bolton NHS Foundation Trust
- Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
- Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust
- The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust
- Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
- Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- East And North Hertfordshire NHS Trust
- The Whittington Hospital NHS Trust
- The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
- Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Trust
- Croydon Health Services NHS Trust